Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University.

The vast collection of historical treasures at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh‘s main branch in Oakland is getting a thoroughly modern showcase thanks to a team of student researchers, engineers and artists from Carnegie Mellon University.

Carnegie’s Monocle, as the project is known, takes patrons on an augmented reality tour of the Pittsburgh landmark via a free smartphone app, available for both Android and iOS.

The app directs participants to different frescos, signs, paintings and objects along a winding path throughout the main library’s second floor. As visitors hold their phones up to particular objects, the app offers animations on the device’s screen that relate to those items.

The project was designed by students last spring in CMU’s Real-Time Animation and Experimental Sound Synthesis classes, which were taught by Assistant Professor Johannes DeYoung and Assistant Teaching Professor of Music Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, respectively.

“This total experience is an amalgamation of different research investigations from students working in collaboration with the library and also working in collaboration with each other across schools, including the School of Art, School of Music and the IDeATe program,” DeYoung said in an announcement about the project.

In addition to showing off the library’s long-standing specialty collections, the app also takes visitors to several new, sound-based installations created by the Monocle team.

Through August 2, patrons can explore a theremin-like instrument that lets users conduct and distort polka music by waving their hands. Visitors will also find a soundscape in the library’s stacks that remixes elements of the 1873 Polish dance song, “Shadyside Mazurka,” and a restored phone booth that allows visitors call up radio programs from the last century.

“Some patrons primarily visit our first floor to pick up books,” said Tara Goe, a music, film and audio librarian with Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. “We hope this art walk will bring attention to our rich music collection and entice people to explore areas where they might be less familiar.”

Check out a video here:

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.